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Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster

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4.39  ·  Rating details ·  24,833 ratings  ·  3,077 reviews
The definitive, dramatic untold story of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, based on original reporting and new archival research.

April 25, 1986, in Chernobyl, was a turning point in world history. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With
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Hardcover, First Edition, 538 pages
Published February 12th 2019 by Simon & Schuster
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Stian I've read both now (finished Midnight yesterday), and while I liked both I prefer Higginbotham.
Part of the reason for this is the balance; I thought P…more
I've read both now (finished Midnight yesterday), and while I liked both I prefer Higginbotham.
Part of the reason for this is the balance; I thought Plokhy spent too much space/time on Ukrainian intellectuals/writers reaction to the accident and too little on the cleanup and containment of the exclusion zone(barely covered by Plokhy). While I can see that the intellectual angle lead to political changes, and isn't unimportant, weighed up against the containment efforts...I think that warrants more attention on overall (I almost skipped the last parts of Plokhy's book).
And, Higginbotham has more extensive sources and bibliography (almost exhaustive). Also interesting, Higginbotham and Plokhy portray Chernobyl manager Bryukhanov quite differently IMO.
So, while I enjoyed both, if I would have to recommend one, I'd go for Higginbotham, which I found more balanced, ultimately more readable and better sourced.(less)

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Beata
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read several books on this catastrophe, I was tempted yet again to learn more about the disaster which affected directly, among others, my country to a still unknown degree. The Midnight in Chernobyl is one of the best non-fiction that you can read in order to obtain the most insightful and detailed account into the reasons behind the explosion, but it offers more. The Author tells the story of the nuclear ambitions during the communist era in the USSR, describes the building process of b ...more
Nataliya
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been deeply fascinated with Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Explosion ever since I read Svetlana Alexievich’s brilliant and deeply soul-crushing Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster that was indeed the people’s story of a true catastrophe. Since then I’ve read a number of books on the disaster - and for reasons strange and unfathomable even to my weird brain HBO brilliant miniseries “Chernobyl” became for me a kind of a comfort watch — a disturbing, soul-crushing, pai ...more
Beverly
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Surreal and demoralizing, Midnight in Chernobyl tells the true story of the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world. This statement by one of the officers from the Department of Internal Affairs of the former USSR sums it up. He wrote in the official log on that horrible morning, about six hours after the explosion, at 7:07 a.m., that" . . . The situation is normal. The radiation level is rising. "

These two opposing statements tell the story of a group of bureaucrats so invested in th
...more
Jenna
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jenna by: Kathleen
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Had you asked me a week ago what I know about Chernobyl I'd have been able to muster only one short phrase: "A nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union". I couldn't have told you anything more than that. When my friend Beata reviewed this book, I realised how ignorant I was on this topic. The review was enticing and I decided to read this book. How happy I am that I did!

Thank You Blowing Kisses GIF - ThankYou BlowingKisses Muah GIFs
Shout out to Beata!

Midnight in Chernobyl reads like an apocalyptic thriller; I did not want to put this book down! Wow! Aut
...more
Yun
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
[Evgeny Velikhov] asked Deputy Minister Silayev to call Gorbachev with a message: "Tell him that our outhouse is overflowing, and they'll have to climb a mountain of shit."
Midnight in Chernobyl is a comprehensive account of the events leading up to and resulting from the meltdown of Reactor Number Four at Chernobyl power station. It details not only the technical failures that led to the meltdown, but also the interpersonal dynamics and prevailing attitudes of secrecy and sycophancy within t
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Matthew
Growing up during the 80s and the final stages of the cold war I remember many, big defining stories in the 80s and early 90s. Reagan vs Gorbachev. The arms race. The fall of the Berlin Wall. But, probably the biggest event with the longest lasting impact is the Chernobyl disaster.

While the Berlin Wall falling was a big deal and has had a lasting impact on the political climate in Europe, there are very few remaining sections, some memorials, but any lasting visible impact is mainly relegated to
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Greta
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chernobyl- The thriller-like account of the disaster and it‘s aftermath

On 25 April 1986 the technicians prepared to do a routine maintenance test at Chernobyl’s reactor No 4, designed to showcase the Soviet Union’s scientific prowess. The purpose of the test was to simulate what would happen during an electrical blackout. The senior engineer Leonid Toptunov was in the control room and began to power down.

For a few seconds everything was normal. But then there was a roar and the plant began to t
...more
Nick Borrelli
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Chernobyl disaster is an event that has fascinated me over the past couple of decades. I was in my early teens when it actually happened and although I remember seeing the news stories about the disaster on TV, being an adolescent at the time with an adolescent's priorities, it didn't really register with me. As I've gotten older I have become more interested in reading about historical events that took place either before I was born or when I was too young to fully appreciate the significan ...more
mindful.librarian ☀️
Riveting, horrifying, absolutely STELLAR reporting. I have always been fascinated (in horror) at the Chernobyl disaster and this book was JUST what I needed to wrap my mind around it. The only criticism I can possibly think of is that I would have loved even MORE pictures but I was able to find tons on The Atlantic and Nat Geo and Time online to fulfill my need for visual confirmation. What I found even more fascinating about this account than the many articles I had read previously was the deta ...more
Melki
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
The worst nuclear disaster in history occurred April 26th, 1986 in northern Ukraine.

Chernobyl's deputy chief engineer for science was the first to call back. He calmly explained what he knew: Unit Four had been taken off-line for routine maintenance, and some kind of electrical tests were being carried out; exactly what, he couldn't say. During those tests, an accident had occurred.
But when asked about the progress of emergency cooling of the core - the vital work that would ensure Reactor Numb
...more
Max
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian
Higginbotham holds our attention with his focus on the human side of the tragedy at Chernobyl. We learn about those working at the plant that fateful night, their backgrounds, their daily lives, their families and friends. Thus as Higginbotham describes the unfolding of the disaster in a blow by blow account, we can feel their dismay as their lives and their world come apart. In addition to a riveting account of the night of the disaster and the chaotic days following, Higginbotham explains the ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It could have easily become the end of the world as we know it.....a nuclear disaster which was not connected to war......a series of human error that continues to haunt. This is the harrowing account of the April, 1986 explosion at Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station in Chernobyl, Ukraine (then the USSR) which released unbelievable amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. The ever-secretive Soviet government attempted to keep news of this horror from becoming public even within t ...more
Ken
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A expertly detailed and fascinating read of the nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl on the morning of 26th of April 1986.
I’ve always been interested in the disaster but it was the award winning HBO series that has led me to want to learn more.

Why this account makes for a perfect addition is the detailed backstory that Higginbotham introduces the reader, as he makes this incident even more tragic.
The city of Pripyat that was founded in 1970 to serve the nearby power plant sounded so perfect
...more
Jackie
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I won this book as a giveaway for goodreads. Interesting book about the horrible events that unfolded almost 30 years ago. It gives you a look at why it was created, why the location, who were involved, what are atoms, Gemma and beta, and so forth. I do wish we got more information about the people made to leave and followed them more, but this book focused more on the administration which was still really interesting. Granted, I’m not 100 percent sure how accurate it is and how dramatic the aut ...more
Dan
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

On Tuesday evening, Vremya broadcast a new statement in the name of the Soviet Council of Ministers. This conceded that two people had been killed as a result of an explosion at the Chernobyl plant, that a section of the reactor building been destroyed, and that Pripyat had been evacuated. There was no mention of a radioactive release. This time the report was relegated to sixth place, behind the latest encouraging news about the mighty Soviet economy.
...more
Chris
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Midnight in Chernobyl is magnificent: a page-turner that is scary as hell, but a history that is meticulous and surprising. I read this after watching the spectacular HBO mini-series, Chernobyl, and it was the perfect companion read. I loved this book — every heart-stopping chapter and every well-chosen word.
Dax
Nov 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 3-stars
I can appreciate the effort that went into collecting sufficient research and organizing those documents into a coherent narrative. I can’t imagine that the USSR was transparent with its documentation of facts. For that, Higginbotham gets an A+. I am also a fan of Higginbotham’s efforts to illustrate the ramifications of the disaster beyond death toll and pollution. The Chernobyl disaster was, in a way, the straw that broke the camels back with regards to the USSR’s economic viability as well as ...more
Dennis
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
The reactor was a pistol with the hammer cocked. All that remained was for someone to pull the trigger.


The Chernobyl disaster shows what can happen when all of these factors come together:

- Faulty design that no one is able or willing to admit to
- Operators that do not fully understand what they’re working with and how to operate it safely
- A culture of secrecy and denial
- An institutionalized reluctance to acknowledge when things do indeed go wrong. Which they did often. Even before that fa
...more
Elizabeth
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Midnight in Chernobyl is a definitive and chilling account of the nuclear disaster that began on April 25-26, 1986 when the fourth nuclear reactor of the Chernobyl plant exploded, causing a nuclear disaster that the USSR tried to deny but had to reveal when the fallout spread into Europe.

If you remember Chernobyl, this book is definitely worth reading.

If the words Chernobyl or USSR seem like ancient history, Midnight in Chernobyl is definitely worth reading.

When Reactor #4 of the Chernobyl Nuc
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sarah xoxo
“a society where the cult of science had supplanted religion, the nuclear chiefs were among its most sanctified icons—pillars of the Soviet state. To permit them to be pulled down would undermine the integrity of the entire system on which the USSR was built. They could not be found guilty.”

After watching the HBO miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ I wanted to learn more- particularly from a more academic rather than dramatised perspective. Midnight in Chernobyl was perfect in satisfying that desire for kno
...more
ALLEN
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julie
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I knew bits and pieces about this but nothing prepared me for this in-depth coverage of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Painstakingly researched and written in an engaging style, this was an enthralling and horrifying account of the disaster written through the eyes of the many people involved at all levels. Tears fell on many occasions. One instance that haunts me is when two men went to fix a broken pipe in contaminated water and used their bare hands as the gloves they were issued fit so p ...more
Joy D
Detailed account of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986 in the former Soviet Union (now Ukraine). Higginbotham takes a look at the reasons behind the explosion, what happened at the plant immediately afterward, the radioactive fallout, protracted clean-up efforts, and the consequences. The author’s account is based on interviews, archives, and de-classified documents.

Despite Gorbachev’s stated policy of glasnost, a blanket of secrecy was drawn over the catastrophe. Operators were bla
...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
The narration was a little dry, but this was otherwise a fascinating, in-depth account of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Arrogance, incompetence, and truly masterful levels of denial worked to create the nuclear meltdown. It had far-reaching effects for the health of the people throughout Asia and Europe, as well as political consequences for the former USSR. Well-researched and written. I also liked that the focus was kept on the Soviet people and their perspective rather than trying to bring ...more
Tara Rock
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"If you want to be a dad, cover your balls in lead."
Whew!! This was a mesmerizing and inconceivable book. For me it was a slow and often difficult read - an information overload - as the subject was a concise and detailed account of the Chernobyl/Pripyat nuclear accident in 1986. The author provided several helpful materials to aid in the digestion: A Cast of Characters, a Glossary, and a page on Units of Radiation. This has prompted me to read more about our own "accident" at Three Mile Island
...more
Monika
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"For us, the war continues, and, little by little, we are slipping away from this world."
- Midnight in Chernobyl, Adam Higginbotham

'The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster', as the subtitle of the book reads, really interested me from a very long time. I have been meaning to read Svetlana Alexivich's work, Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future and Voices from Chernobyl but somehow, I couldn't get around to it. It was only when I started watching Chernobyl, which was strea
...more
Alex Givant
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was 10 days shy of 16 when Chernobyl explosion happens, lived 150 km from it (in Zhitomir, 130 km west of Kiev) and knew nothing about it until our "fearless" leaders with pants full of shit cannot hold the truth from us anymore. On May 1st they told us to go to May parade and refusing was not an option - and who can refuse such festivity of happy Soviet people marching, saying thanks to our beautiful motherland same time as party leaders of all ranks evacuated their relatives to safe places. ...more
Marianna Neal
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
4.5 out of 5 stars

A very good, comprehensive look at the Chernobyl disaster. Higginbotham tries to cover it all—politics, people, science, even some of the international response. So, if you aren't too familiar with what happened—Midnight in Chernobyl is an excellent starting point. It's also written in a very engaging way and reads like a long work of journalism, which is a writing style that really worked for me.
Judith E
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, russia
In spite of the USSR’s secrecy, misinformation, and paranoia, author Higginbotham has written a minute by minute account of the domino effect causing the meltdown of reactor 4 in Chernobyl and the aftereffects.

The need for Soviet gigantomania and the accompanying shoddy workmanship to meet the Party’s demands to prove superior nuclear utilization are just two of a multitude of prescriptions for a nuclear disaster. The Soviet engineers’ insistence to use a positive void cooling system, unlike th
...more
Aoife - Bookish_Babbling
It feels weird to say I enjoyed this, but these kind of books fascinate me.
I was inspired by the HBO show to look more into what happened when I was less than a year old. Now I admit that I have not seen the show - but I did binge listen to the podcasts from the show creator (available on youtube) and am about to embark on relistening to them in light of what I have learned from this book which does actually get name-checked in the first podcast episode (I have just listened to it again) as a va
...more
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“a society where the cult of science had supplanted religion, the nuclear chiefs were among its most sanctified icons—pillars of the Soviet state. To permit them to be pulled down would undermine the integrity of the entire system on which the USSR was built. They could not be found guilty.” 6 likes
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